As it seeks to compete with Comcast cable TV in Minneapolis, CenturyLink is pledging to make its service available to at least 15 percent of the city within the next two years.
Under a plan that won initial approval from a City Council panel Monday, CenturyLink would initially deploy its PRISM TV service on a limited basis to parts of all 13 wards in the city. The goal is to reach the entire city within five years, though it is not a commitment.
The Minneapolis franchise is one of many CenturyLink is seeking across the Twin Cities area; it has also applied for franchise agreements in several suburbs.
Precisely where PRISM will initially roll out in Minneapolis remains a mystery — the company claims it is a trade secret. But under the agreement, the area must include a significant number of households below the city's $49,560 median income.
The 15 percent initial rollout is a step down from earlier expectations that the service would reach 30 percent of the city within two years. But starting in 2016, the company will have to expand service further if it proves popular with customers.
The franchise agreement will go to the full City Council for a final vote on May 15.
"I think overall, having another cable service provider in the city is going to be helpful for residents, in terms of lowering the cost of service and providing additional channels," said Council Member Andrew Johnson.
Those testifying Monday were largely supportive of the plan, particularly CenturyLink's commitment to providing culturally diverse programming — not a component of Comcast's agreement.
CenturyLink also committed to provide all city channels in HD. Viewers would access those public meetings and other programs through a selection screen — known as the "Minneapolis Mosaic" on channel 14.
The franchise agreement would last only five years, compared to Comcast's 12-year agreement, allowing the city revisit the terms.
"It gives a short time period for CenturyLink to really act out its values and also act out the values of the city of Minneapolis," Council Member Blong Yang said. "And after five years we can go back to the negotiating table to see whether they've done what they've promised to do."